DVD Review: House (2007)

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On 4/7/09

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Welcome to Horror Movie Writing 101. In addition to the audience favorite “freaky little kids” paradigm, one of the most tried-and-true set-ups for the “scream and flee” genre involves gathering a group of strangers who having taken a wrong turn off the main road, gotten lost, and make the less than intelligent decision to ask the creepiest dude they can find for directions.

Usually, the faux kindly stranger is personified by a trucker, a cop, or a gas station attendant who stares a tad too long at the female counterpart of the bickering couple (or woman in a group) before the filmmakers decide to throw them—along with some other annoying folks-- in a house or similar structure from which they cannot escape.

Of course, it helps if you stack the deck with as many wild cards as possible by giving us an obligatory Carrie-like sermon spouting, screw-loose Sunday school teacher-style caretaker run amok who shares the place with her disturbed son who seems as though he could be the President of the Norman Bates fan club.

In addition, the characters who find themselves in this predicament are often dealt a hand that adds in the requisite past trauma usually involving the death of a child or relative. So inevitably, it’s this “elephant in the room” that our protagonists—only identifiable as the ones who scream and run from those out to get them rather than based on any real sympathy—must somehow overcome while fending off evil. Needless to say, you put all these together and wham, you’ve got yourself a horror movie.

Adapted from best-selling supernatural authors Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti‘s novel by screenwriter Rob Green for director Robby Henson-- the run-of-the-mill and easily forgettable House makes its way to DVD on Tuesday, April 7 from Lionsgate.

Incidentally the same studio that traditionally specializes in first-rate modern-day horror, the arrival of the Christianity tinged, trippy House (which may only be of interest for its bookended turns by Michael Madsen) follows the same studio’s other thinly disguised Christian ghost tale The Haunting in Connecticut starring Michael’s sister, the Oscar nominated Sideways star Virginia Madsen.

While The Haunting in Connecticut left much to be desired (although it seemed to tap right in to the same New Age escapist creepy fare Knowing which American audiences made the top box office champ during its opening weekend) -- at least in the case of Haunting it takes a while to realize just how bad it is but even then, it remains watchable.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for House which seems to borrow from the same playbook as 1408, The Shining, Carrie, Vacancy, From Dusk ‘til Dawn, Psycho, The Haunting, and Identity. But instead of managing to tap into what made each of those films work, whether it was John Cusack’s one man show in 1408, the twist in Identity, or the Panic Room-style “what would you do?” questions you asked yourself in Vacancy, House decides the only way to separate it from its overly familiar structure is to layer on as much Christianity as possible in ways that treat the audience like they were captive Sunday School students.

Instead of weaving in the layers of repentance or atonement more subtly, screenwriter Green and director Henson use the thickest paintbrush they can find in their Left Behind infused version of Psycho by making the main couple (Reynaldo Rosales and Heidi Dippold) have to fight the devil and sins of their past in order to make it to the light where they can become born again.

The one “saving grace” (if you will) of the film is in its stellar special effects production values which seems to be where the filmmakers focused all of their attention in lieu of perhaps sending the script back for yet another much-needed rewrite.

Admittedly-- having not read the book by Dekker and Peretti-- I can't say that this interpretation was precisely what they had in mind or in their novel if they were far better at trusting the intelligence of their audience to refrain from beating us over the head with what at least in filmmaking form seems to be an overt and condescending (even to the devout) Christian agenda.

However, the fact that the writers serve as co-producers does indeed send some warning bells and if this storytelling approach was exactly what they had in mind, I can only hope that next time around they’ll give us characters with whom we can actually identify instead of Horror Movie 101 types, therefore helping to ensure the audience will keep the faith in what they’re trying to say.

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